- This year, World Wildlife Day will celebrate life in the world’s oceans. It’s a fitting tribute. Oceans cover more than 70 percent of the world’s surface, harbor hundreds of thousands of species, and provide important resources to coastal communities that house more than 35 percent of the global population.
- Oceans also face significant threats, including overexploitation. Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are central to the efforts to protect Earth’s seas and the wildlife that call them home. In recent years, there has been a surge in their creation.
- In order for this strategy to succeed, though, new and existing MPAs must be managed effectively. The Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART) was developed by the SMART Partnership, a collaboration of nine global conservation organizations to improve the performance of protected areas, both on land and at sea, and better use limited resources.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
This year, World Wildlife Day will celebrate life in the world’s oceans. It’s a fitting tribute. Oceans cover more than 70 percent of the world’s surface, harbor hundreds of thousands of species, and provide important resources to coastal communities that house more than 35 percent of the global population.
Oceans also face significant threats, including overexploitation. Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are central to the efforts to protect Earth’s seas and the wildlife that call them home. In recent years, there has been a surge in their creation, spurred on by a global goal to secure 10 percent of the world’s seas, and all they provide, by 2020. Peoples, governments, and organizations everywhere have mobilized to make this a reality in their own countries and regions.
In order for this strategy to succeed, though, new and existing MPAs must be managed effectively. That’s not yet occurring in many cases. Often, small teams of rangers and managers are understaffed, poorly equipped, and don’t have basic information on the damaging activities that are happening.
Conservation groups are turning to tech solutions to generate such knowledge and make it accessible to others. The Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART) was developed by the SMART Partnership, a collaboration of nine global conservation organizations, to improve the performance of protected areas, both on land and at sea, and better use limited resources.
Today, SMART is a holistic protected area management platform, encompassing desktop and online software and mobile data collection, as well as cloud and Internet of things (IoT) connectivity. SMART helps enforcement officers and rangers document where their patrols go, what they see, and how they respond.
That data is fed into a central system back at headquarters where it is converted into mapped images to help managers understand where the greatest threats are and how best to plan future patrols. This helps them allocate their time and resources more effectively while also feeding clear results back to the rangers themselves. Its success derives from a bottom-up approach, drawing directly on the needs identified by staff working in the field.
All told, SMART makes it possible to collect, store, communicate, and analyze ranger data on illegal activities, biodiversity, enforcement routes, and management actions to better deploy resources and evaluate patrol performance. The tool’s effectiveness has made it the global leader for protected area management solutions — it’s now used at more than 600 sites across 55 countries and it has been adopted as the official enforcement tool in 12 countries.
Momentum and interest in SMART marine applications have been growing lately. Currently, more than 45 marine sites have implemented it. Belize is leading that charge by utilizing SMART throughout its MPA system. There, it has reduced the number of fisheries infractions by 85 percent.
In fact, throughout Central America and the Caribbean, there are now seven countries using SMART in the marine realm. Jamaica is the latest. In response to significant pressures, the country had established a network of 17 Special Fishery Conservation Areas, which are each co-managed by the government and a Local Marine Management Agency.
These MPAs, where no fishing is allowed, were set up to protect and enhance near-shore marine environments and regulate destructive fishing practices. However, management effectiveness in the areas varies widely, due in part to challenges in implementing cost-effective patrols and reporting, and creating management approaches that are able to adapt to changing conditions and realities.
To improve management, the Alligator Head Foundation, in collaboration with the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Marine Program and the SMART Partnership, initiated a pilot project at the East Portland Fish Sanctuary. It aims to build a foundation for national SMART implementation across Jamaica’s entire network. The project will also position Jamaica as a regional hub for knowledge exchange and build a foundation for SMART marine implementation in the Caribbean.
As part of the next iteration of SMART, we’re developing additions that will help with marine implementation globally, including a cost-effective solution for integrating vessel monitoring system (VMS) data. We are also developing a predictive patrol planning function that uses machine learning, artificial intelligence, and spatial data to predict hotspots of illegal fishing and generate suggested patrol routes.
Predictive patrol planning test cases have already been developed and tested in Malaysia and Uganda, but these models have yet to be applied to fisheries where there is a significant need to maximize enforcement efficiency due to the difficulties associated with patrolling wide expanses of open ocean.
By providing MPA enforcement officials with better information, such as predictions on where fishing aggregations might be found, we may increase the cost-effectiveness of fisheries management and reduce incidences of illegal fishing.
As a result of all this positive momentum, we are seeing countries across the Caribbean and beyond begin SMART implementation. This embrace by the user community is exciting, but not totally new. We’ve seen that once SMART technology is implemented successfully, other practitioners in similar niches quickly recognize its potential at their sites, too.
We’re excited for what the future of SMART marine holds. Through the development of innovative solutions, and the support and enthusiasm of the global marine community, we strive to continually improve marine conservation outcomes into the future.
Drew T. Cronin is the SMART Partnership Program Manager, based at WCS; Katherine Holmes is the Associate Director of the WCS Global Marine Program; Dayne Buddo is the Chief Executive Officer of the Alligator Head Foundation.
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